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  • Writer's pictureHScarboro

When Father’s Day is Hard: Reflection and Coping Skills

With Father’s Day approaching quickly, I can’t help but reflect on my own experience with my own father.

Dad was never who I wanted him or needed him to be. There was abuse and even indifference. I can remember how sick I felt every other Friday and usually needed to leave school early due to gastrointestinal issues. I would hide from my mom, who would pick me up from after school daycare, and we would wait at home for dad to pick me up. From being locked out of the house to being locked in a dog pen and forced to use the bathroom outside at 9 years old, my dad was aware of the abuse at the hand of stepmom #1. Instead of protecting me, he worked, golfed, fished, literally anything to not be in the home with me.

When I was 13 years old, I asked my mom if I could stop seeing him every other weekend. She consulted with a lawyer and the visitation order was suspended by a judge stating I was old enough to make that decision.

I have been fortunate to have several men in my life who have, over time, filled that father position for me. Dr. Gary Wright (Papa Wright), for many of us in the Music Program at UNCP, was a surrogate father. His death in 2010 was perhaps the first time I ever truly evaluated my relationship with my father. I grieved Gary, and still do. David Seiberling also filled this role for many of the music majors during my undergrad. He was the role model who was caring, but also encouraged discipline. He was the predominant influence in my decision to pursue a master’s degree in music composition. He left this world in 2023. These two men filled so many voids.

Watercolors of Dr. Gary Wright, and David Seiberling painted by Jamie Hansen

I also have been really blessed to have my stepdad, Scott, and a bonus dad in Dean. Scott came into my life in 2003 and has been rock solid in all the dad stuff! And Dean has been stepping in since 2014 with the fatherly stuff as well.

I’m 42 years old now and have had no contact with my father since 2018. It was not exclusively my decision, but perhaps that’s for another blog. It never gets easier, however my skills at coping have gotten lots better. I’m at a place where I focus all my Father’s Day love on those good dads who are present, even if they aren’t biologically related to me or even have children of their own. They do good in the world and are loving, supportive, and protective.

Regardless if your father wasn’t great, or if he has died, or you never knew who he was, or you were unable to be a father, these suggestions can help ease some of the pain of this day.

  • Avoid social media. When celebrating hurts, especially such a publicized day, social media can trigger unwanted trauma memories and painful reminders.

  • Honor your feelings. It’s normal and natural for this day to be especially hard if you’re grieving – and let’s face it, if this day is hard, we are grieving either a father or fatherhood.

  • Celebrate how you want or not at all. Last year was the first year that my dad type figures were both out of town at the same time. So, we planned lunch and a full day of putt-putt and pool! Wonderful distractions and something enjoyable to focus on.

  • Grab a dose of nature. Getting outside is grounding, centering, and the quickest way to shift your brain chemistry. Being outside lowers cortisol (stress hormone) levels, lowers heart rate, and is relaxing.

Just remember, you’re not alone in this, and there is no right or wrong to manage this day. Get creative or disconnect. However, don’t ignore your feelings. Being real with them is the only way to heal those father wounds.

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